Where: Xoyo Club, London
When: 25th October 2011
Who: John Foxx and the Maths, Gazelle Twin, Tara Busch
30 years after the beginning of his solo career John Foxx is at the peak of his powers – and for the first time since Ultravox!, he is in a regular band context.
The current UK tour of John Foxx and the Maths has been a big success, playing to full houses but as I talked to Foxx before his first London show, it is clear that he expects a big future for the Maths – with or without their current lead singer.
The Maths having made their live debut a year or so ago, have recorded two albums – “Interplay” which made its bow to great reviews earlier in the year and “The Shape of Things” which is released in a limited tour edition to coincide with the shows.
John makes it clear that he sees his current co-writer Benge as being the heart of the Maths and the one who will be the centre of the band’s activities in the future. However, it is obvious that Foxx is the central attraction for those coming out to catch the shows whilst Benge is an obscure presence on electronic percussion at the back of the stage. The band’s future direction is a conundrum for another day but what is clear is that this current extension to John Foxx’s solo output is allowing him his finest live performances to date.
Augmented by Serafina Steer on bass and keyboards, and Hannah Peel on keyboards and electric violin, Foxx is given a clear way to display a growing confidence as a lead figure for the band which had somewhat disappeared since his days with Ultravox!. Freed from the responsibility having to worry about every aspect of the music and having more of a genuine live band-feel seems to have allowed Mr Foxx the space to impose more of his personality on the performance and this is recognised by an enthusiastic audience.
The set is made up of music from three distinct eras of Foxx’s career. Firstly and primarily there are 9 tracks from the first Maths album and 1 from the new platter. Secondly, there is material from the Metamatic album and era, Foxx’s solo debut back in the halcyon days of 1980. Finally, there are songs from the time of the original Ultravox! band. On many of the songs, the mere presence of Peel’s violin evokes a certain memory of Billy Currie’s role in that earlier band and adds a distinctly eerie presence to tracks like “Plaza” which enriches everything we have heard on previous outings for those early songs. Noticeably, Foxx bypasses the period of his songwriting which covers his work with Louis Gordon completely.
It is difficult to find anything here that doesn’t shine. The title track of the first Maths album is very, very minimalist on the recording and I was unsure how “Interplay” would work in live performance. It is the very barrenness of the sound with Foxx’s steely, commanding vocal pushed right to the fore which makes this for me the highlight of the night – not least because of the way it both contrasts and resonates with “Evergreen” and “Summerland” both also to be found on that first Maths album. The sense of loss (or miscalculation or confusion) that is at the heart of “Interplay” is lyrically the opposite of these other two, which speak of a good time which cannot be lost or misplaced but which is always there for us.
That sense of being able to return to wonderful times in our past, is captured too in the older songs which are interweaved amongst the new tracks. “Just For A Moment”, “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, “No-One Driving” sound just like they always did but with a vigour and human heartbeat which is the opposite of some perceptions of Foxx’s music but which has always been there but is drawn out moreso by the relaxed way Foxx is able to think about the familiar words and play with the phrasing and also by the vigour and energy of the live band.
Benge’s wide sweeps at the drum pads are solid and rhythmic and allow us a visual understanding of the beat which is lost in so many electronic bands who have never been able to visually replace the physical full drum kit.
Tonight has been a full evening of music. Support acts were Tara Bush and Gazelle Twin. The two, both exponents of electronic music, created opposite effects. Busch hidden behind a much older synthesiser than anything else on the crowded stage tonight, didn’t rely on visual effects but delivered the bizarre array of her songs and a Carpenters cover with a biting conviction that kept me locked into her music.
By contrast, Gazelle Twin (a 3-piece) allowed their attempts to be visually different to smother their music and didn’t maintain the interest of the bulk of the audience. Their songs lacked melodies and the vocals were lost somewhere in the mix.
But for those who were gathered, tonight was about John Foxx and the Maths in the first of two performances in the capital city. Family illness prevented me from being present at the second and I hear that Mr Foxx took a head injury from that one which necessitated a little attention from the local accident department. I hope it is not serious because whilst the question of whether the Maths can do the sums without him remains an open one what is not in question is that with the Maths in the equation Foxx is finding a whole new dimension in his live performance.